End of regular season fixtures with plenty on the line.
So after many months of hard slog, the final round of Ulster Bank League fixtures have come around with several Limerick clubs having plenty to play for.
Old Belvedere V Young Munster: The cookies have can finish anywhere from 1st to 4th by the end of today’s fixtures. Currently in 3rd on 53 points, a bonus point win against already relegated Belvedere could be enough for a home semi final.
Old Belvedere who started their league run with such bright hope, posting four early wins and lifting the Leinster Senior Cup. But last week saw them relegated from the top flight having gone eight matches without a victory.
On paper, the Bateman Cup finalists have a squad to challenge for league honours, but it just has not happened for them and September’s memorable 36-35 success down at Young Munster seems a long time ago.
Young Munster will be looking to avenge that home defeat and should have more than enough to take the maximum five points from Belvedere. A dour 3-0 win over Cork Con last weekend has them poised and ready to take a spot in the top two.
With Clontarf entertaining UCD and Garryowen heading to Lansdowne in need of a win to guarantee 1a status next year, one could see the light blues doing their city neighbours a big favour. Verdict: Young Munster to win with a bonus point.
Lansdowne V Garryowen: Lansdowne have lost four on the bounce and what once like a nailed on home semi final is now under threat. With relegation threatened Garryowen making the trip up to the capital, you can expect a savage battle with both teams having entirely different priorities.
Fergal Cleary was an able deputy for Scott Deasy at out-half last week, but the table toppers were just overrun by a terrier-like Terenure team who secured a deserved victory to move them out of the relegation playoff spot.
Lansdowne have arguably the best scrummaging unit in the division and that is an area they can certainly hurt the Light Blues in.
Garryowen’s dramatic comeback victory over Old Belvedere showcased their backs’ try-scoring ability. Two of their scorers from that game, top scorer Liam Coombes (six tries) and Munster’s Alex Wootton, will definitely need to be well marshalled by the home defence.
If Garryowen’s forwards can live with Lansdowne and provide quality ball for their pack then, they can do damage to Lansdowne. If the Dublin side’s pack get on top, then it could be a long day for the light blues. Verdict: Lansdowne to win but Garryowen to pick up a bonus point and avoid the relegation playoff spot.
UL Bohemians V Dolphin: The Robins welcome a Dolphin side fresh off the back of a superb win over Old Wesley last weekend. It was the third win on the trot for the Cork side which has moved them off the automatic relegation spot with the possibility of leapfrogging Ballymena depending on other results but a relegation playoff is the most likely scenario.
Bohs have the huge incentive of a home semi final should they finish second in the table and as it stands, a win of any sort against Dolphin would be enough to secure it. Former Dolphin back Harry Fleming has had a big impact for the Robins scoring trues in each of the last five rounds.
Last week’s gritty performance away to Ballynahinch was proof that Christy Nielan has added a steely dimension to this team. A win would secure a home promotion semi final against either Naas or Old Wesley pending other outcomes. Verdict: Bohs on the 4g at UL have been superb this season, their fast running game is ideally suited to the artificial terrain and if they get off to a good start, they will get the required win.
Ballymena V Shannon: Dolphin’s resurgence has drawn Ballymena and Shannon into the relegation picture. A couple of weeks ago, the Cork side and Galwegians looked relegation certainties but recent results now have both clubs within a five-point range of the second-from-bottom Corkmen ahead of a tense final day.
That means the winners here will be safe in Division 1B for another season and a draw would be enough for both sides. The Braidmen are battling injuries again, but the presence of Ulster’s Ross Kane will boost their front row and David Shanahan and Mark Best face late fitness tests.
Shannon have looked the more cohesive outfit in recent rounds, picking up a losing bonus point against champions Buccaneers last Saturday. Avenging September’s 25-19 defeat to Ballymena is well within their capabilities. Verdict: Ballymena to win but Shannon to pick up a losing bonus point. Expect both Shannon and Ballymena supporters to be frantically checking up updates from the 4g at UL as a win for Bohs over Dolphin will ensure safety for both sides.
Greystones V Old Crescent: Greystones are poised to go up to Division 2A as champions, twelve months on from losing a promotion play-off final to Sunday’s Well. But Kevin Lewis’ charges will tread with caution as play-off-bound Old Crescent are a quality outfit.
If the leaders can maintain their free-scoring form, there should be only one winner – ‘Stones’ lowest points tally in the last four rounds was 34.
Crescent put a half-century of points on MU Barnhall last week, however they were held try-less by the Wicklow men in September (19-3) and Wanderers (19-9) two rounds ago.
The Rosbrien side play an attractive brand of rugby and are already guaranteed a playoff berth. Crescent could jump past Wanderers into 3rd meaning a trip to Armagh in the semi final.
However with Wanderers playing already relegated Thomond, it’s more likely Crescent will stay in 4th and face a trip to Cork to take on Sundays Well next weekend.
It remains to be seen if they will rest key players knowing the playoffs are secured or if Crescent will aim to keep the intensity up heading into next week. Verdict: Greystones to win and confirm their champions status with Crescent already focusing on next weekend.
Thomond V Wanderers: Thomond’s last game in Division 2B sees them come up against third-placed Wanderers who, as things stand, will be away to either Armagh or Greystones in next week’s promotion play-offs. It was only a year ago that the Dubliners came up from Division 2C via the play-off route.
These last two seasons have been particularly tough for Thomond who have dropped from Division 2A to the bottom tier in little over 24 months. They will be looking to regroup and assess where the season went wrong and plot an exit from 2C next year.
Key to starting that rebuilding process is fixing the worst defence across any of the five divisions conceding an average of 36 points a game while only scoring an average of 13.
Thomond could have one last sting in their tail and know that a win could see their cross town rivals Old Crescent up to 3rd place.
Wanderers were 54-19 winners when they hosted the Soda Cakes in September’s opening round, and a season’s double will keep their confidence levels high ahead of that road trip in the play-off semi-finals. Verdict: Wanderers to win
Bruff V Boyne: Bruff will look at the table and think of what might have been. The top four is frustratingly out of reach – just six points – and they are paying for an early season slump that included five defeats in six games.
The county side simply gave themselves too much work to do, but it should give them ample encouragement to launch a realistic tilt at promotion from 2c next season.
Visitors Boyne would gladly swap places with them, the Drogheda outfit are still fighting off automatic relegation. Even if they avoid the drop this weekend, their senior status will rest on winning an April 29 play-off at home to the Round Robin runners-up. Verdict: Bruff to win and finish off the season in style.